Merciful Harvest

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Date: Pentecost 8 (Proper 10) + 7/14/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, the Lord of the Harvest. And, we should add, blessed are all who receive Him as their King, their Lord, their merciful Savior. Notice that I didn’t say “all who accept Him,” but “all who receive Him”!

Recently we have heard how Jesus was rejected by the Samaritan village. Nevertheless He sends out seventy-two of his disciples elsewhere to proclaim His kingdom many of whom were joyfully welcomed into the peoples’ homes. To them Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). The result of this labor will be that some will reject Christ while others will be brought to saving faith. Today we are warned that there are many ways the Lord Jesus and His salvation can be rejected. The most insidious way, and universal, is the sin of works righteousness; the sin of demanding that receiving salvation must include some effort or cooperation on our part, as is so blatantly stated by the lawyer’s question to Jesus today, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

The truthful answer is quite simple. If you are going to gain eternal life by your effort and works you must fulfill the Ten Commandments. The tricky reality, however, is that sin has such a deep hold on us all that none of us has the ability to fulfill God’s Law to the extent required, namely, perfectly and completely. With Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan He tried to lift His inquiring legalist’s eyes above the way of the Law to discover the way of God’s mercy. We’re not told if the lawyer “got it” or if he was still stuck in his works-righteous mentality. May we discover or re-discover the great mercy of God in this story today.

In our congregational study of the Lutheran Confessions, this past week we reviewed the third article of the Formula of Concord regarding the topic of “the righteousness of faith before God.” The true Biblical doctrine of salvation centers in the justification of the sinner by God’s grace through faith. The Formula lists various false contrary doctrines, all of which demand in one way or another that there must be some sort of work or cooperation on our part in order to be saved. A few of these false doctrines include, saying:

1.      Our love or good works are a merit or cause of justification before God, either entirely or at least in part. Or:
2.      By good works a person must make himself worthy and fit so that Christ’s merit may be given to him.
There is also the confusion between justification or salvation and sanctification or holy living, as when some say:
3.      Our real righteousness before God is the love or renewal the Holy Spirit works in us and which is in us. Or:
4.      Faith justifies only initially, either in part or primarily, and that our newness or love justifies even before God, either completely or secondarily.

“Teacher, what shall I do…?” We heard the Lord’s word in Leviticus, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus asked our lawyer friend, “What is written in the Law?” and “How do you read it?” he proceeded to answer correctly according to both tables of the Law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

So, how is your love of God? How is your love of neighbor? Like the lawyer, we would prefer if we could cover any guilt we might feel by finding loopholes. Some neighbors, after all, are easier to love than others. So we hope we might be let off the hook a bit if we can set certain limits. “And who is my neighbor?” And what sort of “love” is required? “What must I do?”

In Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan we with our lawyer friend may hear Jesus saying that our neighbor is anyone who is in need, which is true. But that not a priest nor a Levite but a disgusting Samaritan is held up as an example for us is at least distasteful but more even offensive. The lawyer can’t even speak the word “Samaritan” so he only answers Jesus, saying, “the one who showed him mercy” was the one who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers. The punch line “go and do likewise” does little to help us and even seems to reinforce the idea that we must at least do something to earn or deserve God’s love. This story heard in this way only leaves us along with the lawyer shocked, deflated and challenged, hardly relieved or satisfied.

But who is the lawyer and who are we in Jesus’ story? The priest? The Levite? Or the Samaritan? We have not discovered the mercy of God until we realize that we all are spiritually stripped, beaten and half dead, that we are the one left by the side of the road. Isn’t that a picture of what sin has done to all of us? The only hope we have is if someone else comes to our aid, someone of compassion and mercy, someone who has the resources to bind our wounds and heal and care for us.

If you or the lawyer were offended by the idea that a Samaritan proved to be the neighbor, you should be doubly troubled to discover that, in this story, the Samaritan actually portrays Jesus Himself! He is the only helpful neighbor because He alone could and did fulfill the whole Law of God perfectly and He did it for us, for you. But that’s not all. Though perfectly holy and righteous in Himself, nevertheless He laid all that merit aside and gave Himself to be the one acceptable sacrifice for the sin of the whole world, for your sin and mine. Now by faith in His mercy toward us, by the forgiveness of our sin gained for us by His work and merit, His blood shed, by this faith God declares you “justified,” “righteous,” restored as His own child set free from sin and death. And all that without you “lifting a finger”!

“What must I do?” is not the right question. For the answer is, “nothing.” For even the faith, even the believing in the mercy of Christ is not our doing. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Now when, and only when one is restored to holiness by faith in Christ, then, and only then are we freed to love God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves. For it is all about the mercy and compassion of God in Christ for the life of the world.